When most people are sleeping, Ron and Carlyn Sproston become sleuths.
The husband-and-wife team works diligently to bring the stories of local service men and women to life.
Ron said, “We’ve always been night people, so we do a lot of work then,” in their volunteer roles with the Warrnambool RSL Sub-Branch.
This year alone, the couple has dedicated over 500 hours to volunteering.
The so-called “Ten-Pound Poms” immigrated to Australia in 1964 as a newly married couple and have called Warrnambool home since 1989.
The former schoolteachers retired in 2007 and with a long-time passion for history and research, completed a Master of Museums and Cultural Heritage in 2015.
"We’ve always thought of ourselves as life-long learners. It’s something we enjoy doing. Carlyn is described as ‘forensic.’ We like to get into the detail and discover what we can. That comes out a lot in what we’re doing with the RSL."
Their connection with the local RSL Sub-Branch blossomed about five years ago when they were told about the interactive war memorial initiative.
After dedicating several years to other local research efforts, they were keen on the new opportunity.
The interactive war memorial based at the RSL gives an insight into the work they have assisted with.
The two spend hours researching and writing about the lives and service histories of men and women from the region, which is viewable to the public on the touchscreen memorial.
"We write it all in first person, so it’s as though they are telling their own story."
The Sprostons become so invested, each story almost becomes personal.
“We worked our way through all those who had been killed or taken prisoner first. It was horrendous. We couldn’t do more than one a night because it was so emotional,” says Carlyn.
“They are my boys; I think of them as my boys.”
“I’ve always felt that as long as we can tell their story, they are remembered, we bring them back,” says Ron.
In-between their time dedicated to the war memorial research, they are also researching, preserving and documenting the memorabilia that has been donated to their Sub-Branch over the years.
“What we’re working on with a team, it’s not just us, is to put all the memorabilia onto the Collections Victoria site. It’s a long process with extensive information,” says Ron.
The pair has unravelled fascinating stories behind many of artefacts.
“We discovered, for instance, that we had a little plaque with shrapnel and bullets from ANZAC Cove that had been donated by a Turkish naval officer.”
Ron and Carlyn are also part of the team responsible for treating Sub-Branch visitors with visual displays of various donations.
“The next display will include random objects from our collection, such as a pair of black boots - Rossi boots - an Australian company that supplied Australian servicemen, soldiers mostly, from World War One until post-Vietnam.”
What the pair loves about their volunteering is that it keeps them busy.
"For a start, it keeps out minds active. It’s stimulating. And the people we meet through it makes it sociable, too."
They both agree it’s a privilege to contribute. They are proud to bring recognition back to so many men and women who otherwise risk fading into history
In January 2023, Warrnambool City Council presented the pair with the Local Achiever Awards in recognition of their work documenting local history, mostly recently with the RSL.
Thanks to volunteers like Ron and Carlyn, history and all its enriching anecdotes can be given the perpetuity it deserves.